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By Chance or By Choice

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"DRACO!"

The sound of his name shoots through Draco's nerves, setting them on fire. He turns. Insurgents in black robes emerge from the forest on the edge of the training field, spells shooting from their wands in streaks of colour.

The cloaked figure at the front of the group levels his wand, sending a blast of green shooting straight towards Potter. Time seems to slow down as Draco follows the progress of its comet tail of light. Without a second thought, time resumes and he leaps in front of it. The world goes dark.

~*~

Draco's not sure where he's ended up. He feels like he's floating, perhaps falling – speeding towards the ground from such a height that the air supports him. No. That can't be right.

He blinks. His vision is flooded with bright colourless mist. It's not so bright that it hurts his eyes, but enough that it's more comfortable to close his eyelids halfway until he has a chance to adjust.

What the fuck happened?

Memories of whispered conversations in the dark between bunks rise in his mind as he struggles to recall the last thing he can. The green curse, jumping in front of Potter. Dying? He remembers Potter telling him about walking to his own death during the Battle of Hogwarts. Potter's voice had trembled in the dark, halfway between hysterical gasping laughter (you'd never believe me if I told you) and choked emotion that made Draco have to strain his ears. King's Cross Station.

As the memory slots into place, Draco realises that what he is seeing above him is indeed the high domed ceiling of the station. It's brighter, cleaner, quieter than it should be, but he's definitely here. Potter hadn't been lying.

Which means Draco … is dead.

He sits up, head spinning for a moment. He's entirely naked and ready to bust out laughing at the idea of boarding a train to whatever is next in his birthday suit, when he notices a soft grey robe folded neatly beside his hand.

He slips it on, certain it hadn't been there a moment before – beyond caring about why that is – and climbs to his feet. The ground he's standing on feels spongy, springy, but as as he walks towards the station's gates, it seems to firm up. The station itself grows sharper in focus, more realistic.

He approaches the barrier between platforms 9 and 10, though that can't be right. It's not like he's taking the train to Hogwarts. He takes a step back, his hand an inch from the bricks, when a voice calls out behind him.

"Ah, there you are."

He bites his cheek to stop himself from whipping around and instead turns slowly, mind whirring as he prepares himself to meet whatever's coming. His eyes find the tall figure of Albus Dumbledore, dressed in robes of midnight blue and hands extended in welcome, both apparently whole and undamaged.

It's exactly like Potter had told him dying was like.

He's not sure how to feel about facing Albus Dumbledore in the afterlife. What does one say to the man whose death you're responsible for – whose death you spent a year plotting? He swallows, wondering why it couldn't have been Severus to meet him here. Perhaps it's part of the moving on process, facing up to your greatest mistakes.

Dumbledore is right in front of him now, standing only a couple of feet away, and Draco realises he'd not even noticed him approaching. "I suppose I shouldn't expect a more friendly greeting," Dumbledore says, though his eyes still seem to smile when he looks at Draco. It feels like they can see straight through him. "We didn't part on the best terms, after all."

Draco's tongue is heavy in his mouth, swollen. It takes all his effort to swallow his pride, a bitter taste in his mouth. He forces himself to look Dumbledore in the eyes.

"I'm – I'm sorry, sir." He swallows again. "I hope you know that I regret what I did. I changed … I tried to change … to be good …" He stares at his feet, unable to face Dumbledore's scrutiny.

"Draco." Dumbledore clasps Draco's shoulders with his hands.

He looks back up, trying not to blink for fear of shedding an accidental tear.

"I forgive you. Thank you for forgiving yourself and changing your path. I'm very proud of the Auror you're becoming."

He blinks, and it's too late, his eyelashes are wet, but the way Dumbledore phrased that last sentence gives him a strand to hold onto and maintain his composure. "But, I'm dead. Har – Potter told me this is the place where people go after they die."

Dumbledore nods, releasing Draco's shoulders, his lips turned down at the corners. "That's true, but you know Harry pretty well now. I don't think you've quite reached your end yet."

"I don't understand." It's maddening that Dumbledore still speaks as if he's got all the answers to the mysteries of the universe and insists on holding them over everybody's heads as if gauging their desperation.

Dumbledore turns his gaze towards the train tracks off Platform 10. The sounds of a train approaching fill the empty station. "The Snitch has not yet been caught. You have a choice; you could return to your life."

The memory of the last conversation he and Potter had sours Draco's exhilaration at the prospect of going back. He furrows his brows. "I deserve it, though." He focusses on the engine pulling into the platform, spilling steam all over the flagstones and making the potted plants tremble. He can't quite keep from speaking the rest of his thoughts aloud. It feels safe to voice them here, cushioned by the sounds of the engine creaking as it cools down. "As much as I tried to fit in, I'll never be trusted as an Auror. At least this way … I died brave."

Dumbledore turns and walks towards the train. Draco's sure Dumbledore heard his words, but apparently doesn't have anything to say in response. He follows. There doesn't seem to be any other option.

"When you climb aboard at the first carriage, you'll face a scene from your recent past during Auror training. Though it will likely be from a different point of view than you'd expect. It could be, Draco, that you aren't seeing the big picture, that perhaps you aren't aware of how much your life is really worth."

Draco stops in his tracks, staring at Dumbledore's back. He can't help it. The old man riles up the defiance inside him. "But I'm tired of life; don't you understand? It's easier to just move on and let the world get on without me."

Dumbledore continues as if he doesn't hear Draco's protests. "After the first scene concludes, you need to move on to the second carriage and then the next, all the way to the end. If you find you still feel as you do now, the train will take you … on."

"And if I don't?" Draco snaps. He knows he sounds petulant, but he never asked for this cryptic send-off.

Dumbledore turns around and gestures to the stairs of the first carriage. When Draco reluctantly climbs them and turns back before boarding, he finally responds. "Then you may jump off and return to your life right where you left off. I have a feeling Harry would be relieved to have you back."

Before Draco has a chance to retort, the engine shudders back to life and he has to step through the door lest he fall onto the track.

~*~

"I'll keep my eyes open for you!" Draco calls, only he's not himself. He's been here before; actually, there he is stalking away. He's … Potter? He watches himself slink off like the coward he is, recalling how humiliated he'd felt. It was the first day of Auror training and Potter and he had been assigned as partners. Draco knew it was only because Potter was being charitable and had volunteered because nobody else wanted to partner him.

Weasley tugs at his sleeve and he turns to face him. It's the most disorientating experience Draco's ever had. He's present inside Potter's mind, but he's not really Potter, just along for the ride through Potter's eyes, he supposes.

"Seriously, Harry." Weasley's dropped his voice, but Draco can see the respect in his eyes that Weasley would never show him. "I wonder sometimes if you're off your nut."

Draco can feel the swirl of Potter's emotions as if he were in his own body, but it's Potter's body, Potter's emotions, anger, embarrassment, and hope all mixed together.

"Life is all about second chances, Ron. I want to make sure he gets one." Potter pauses, thoughts of Dumbledore rising in his mind, the terrible scene at the top of the tower, Dumbledore pleading with Draco to come over to the right side, promising him a second chance …

Draco's seen enough. He doesn't want Potter's pity or help, or pseudo-friendship. He mentally pulls himself away until he sees the train carriage again. He looks down and finds he's back in his own body, in the grey robes he'd found at King's Cross.

The train rumbles beneath his feet and he stumbles forward, towards the door leading to the second carriage. He takes a deep breath – might as well get on with it – and opens the door. He steps into another scene, looking out once more through eyes that don't belong to him.

~*~

It's dark, cramped, close. Draco's vision is blurry, but he recalls where he is. He groans inwardly, though he's inside Potter's head and can't actually vocalise his frustration.

"Here're your glasses." That's his voice. His real voice. And it's coming from the only other person in the small cave they're trapped inside.

"Thanks." Potter's breath hitches as his groin bumps Draco's thigh. The emotions stirring in Potter's gut are familiar, unwanted, but Draco never thought Potter was feeling them too. This is just odd.

They've successfully retrieved the MLE flag during a training exercise and promptly got themselves caught in a booby trap.

"How long do you reckon before they retrieve us?" he hears himself ask, detecting the slight tremor in his own voice, but certain that Potter didn't catch it. It's not comfortable. The cave is hardly large enough for both their bodies, and Draco has to prop himself against the wall, his thighs parted, and holding himself up with his legs, knees bent so he's half-sitting. Potter stands between Draco's thighs, stooping so his head doesn't hit the cave's ceiling.

"I dunno. Can't send red sparks from in here. We might have to find our own way out." Potter's voice sounds weary but, from inside his body, Draco can feel the smile on his face he couldn't make out in the dark, and the sensation of contentment that makes no sense. It's as if Potter is all right with being trapped in such close quarters as long as it's Draco he's with.

Draco could almost believe the attraction he can sense swirling throughout Potter's body is genuine, except for the conversation he'd overheard toward the end of the training year. Perhaps Potter is a bit of a psychopath – playing with people and their emotions as if they were puppets – though that doesn't seem to match his personality. Draco huffs inwardly. He wishes he could figure out what makes Potter tick.

"You did really great out there," Potter breathes. Draco recalls the sensation of goosebumps that broke out over his body when he'd felt the ghost of Potter's breath on his cheek.

He watches himself, looking more like a shadow than a person in the dark cave, as he snickers dryly. "We do make a pretty good team. Except for the whole getting trapped in a cave business."

Potter's mouth stretches into a grin and he looks up, spotting a sliver of light that wasn't there moments earlier.

"Bugger me," Potter says, and Draco can feel his other self stiffen at those words, until he, too, notices the light. "I think we just passed a test." He points his wand at the crack and blasts the roof of the cave off, freeing them.

~*~

As the dust settles around him, he realises he's back in the second carriage of the train to eternity.

He's sitting on his arse, the door to the next carriage open in front of him.

"More like the train to hell," he mutters to himself as he climbs to his feet, but the chill that runs the length of his body at that thought makes him eager to push on and not think about it anymore.

He's just stepped through the doorway when he finds himself again an unintentional passenger in Potter's body.

The girl Weasley giggles at something Potter's just said and slaps his arm. "I'm sure you'd know all about that!"

Potter ruffles his stupid hair with his hand, his face growing warm, and then he stops suddenly, holds out his hand to quiet Ginny.

Draco wants to curl up and die rather than experience this scene again. He knows what Potter's seeing, though he is deliberately not watching it through Potter's eyes. He feels a bit stupid, pulling the mental equivalent of plugging his ears with his fingers, squeezing his eyes shut and singing la-la-la-la-la, I-can't-hear-you.

There's a group of about four or five Auror trainees that have made it their mission in life to test Draco's worthiness of joining them as often as they can't get away with. He also knows that on the other side of the meddling group, on the opposite side of the building Potter is standing, he's frozen in place. He'd been in a rather good mood that day, received a formal stripe of recognition to his badge, and was finally feeling like he may have found his niche; when he overheard this group – led by Zacharias Smith, fucking upstart Hufflepuff – discussing their next plot to test Draco's patience.

Potter isn't having any of it.

He storms right out and confronts the bastards, name-dropping left, right, and centre, calling them all out on their own poor performances and telling them they'd be better off using their time and energy to getting through the training exercises or he could end it all for them with a simple word to the director.

Draco feels the burn of shame all over again, even though he's really not listening, and knows his other self has stormed off to have a tantrum in his and Potter's barracks.

After the upstarts have dispersed, Ginny joins him again and puts her hand on his back. He tenses up and glares at her as if expecting her to challenge Draco's worth too, but surprisingly she doesn't. Her face breaks into a huge grin. "Oh, you've got it bad," she says, making absolutely no sense.

Before Draco can work out what the fuck she's talking about or why Potter's anger seems to melt off him, he's pulled back into the present, this time catching himself before he falls on his arse.

Damn mind-hopping is going to make him sick.

~*~

He pushes himself through the door to the next carriage, not quite dreading the next scenario. He needs answers and this just might be the way he gets them.

He's in Potter's body again. His other self is propped up against the desk in their barracks. Potter's pulled off Draco's shirt and Draco rolls his eyes as he allows Potter to examine the short gash on Draco's chest.

The Healer treated it straight away and only an angry streak of red remains, but Draco's been told it will fade to silver to match his Sectumsempra scars in a few weeks.

"It's fine, Potter," Draco says, but inside Potter's head, Draco feels the surge of guilt and fear, of relief and, fuck it all, Draco recalls it bitterly, a sexual tension thick enough to stick a knife in.

Potter looks up, and Draco can see his arousal reflecting back from his own eyes, supplemented even by his own lust-blown pupils. They're close enough to kiss … Draco remembers preparing to surrender to it, the pull so strong, but a fucking pounding on their door shatters the moment and, inside Potter's mind, Draco can feel Potter's thoughts scatter like motes of dust.

Potter draws back and Draco's mind is focussed on how he's been left shivering, watching Potter walk away.

It's Weasley at the door. Potter rakes his hand through his hair, the shiver his fingers send through his scalp doing nothing to quell his arousal. "He's going to be fine, Ron. The Healer put him to rights."

Weasley was concerned about him? Draco's mind is blown.

"Well, tell him we all agree he's a solid part of the team."

Potter nods, smiling, and shuts the door.

He hadn't shared Weasley's message, though seeing it through Potter's eyes, Draco understands why. Potter's eyes are all over Draco's body, his mind focussed for once on only one thing. He watches himself gather his pyjamas, a towel tied around his waist. Their eyes meet and though no words are exchanged, there's been a shift between them and they both know it.

Time seems to speed up, moving at a speed Draco can't process, until it settles back to its regular pace and Potter's lying on his bunk in the dark, his hand wrapped around his cock inside his pants, and his heart racing.

On this side of things, Draco's carried right up in it along with Potter. It's hard not to succumb to the draw of sex when there's a hand wrapped around your cock (even when it's not your own, but you're sharing it all the same). Fuck, Draco's not making sense, even to himself.

Potter's breath hitches, he stops mid-stroke, grips the base and tempers down his building climax. Listens. Draco's awake in his own bunk. Potter can hear him trying not to breathe too loudly.

"Draco?"

He hears himself cover his face with his pillow and stifle a frustrated groan into it.

Potter's cock twitches at the sound. He pulls his hand free, props himself up on his elbow, looking at Draco across short dark distance that separates them.

"What?" comes his own voice, along with the sounds of the pillow hitting the wall as he tosses it off his face. He sounds aroused. He'd meant to sound disinterested, but should have realised he'd failed when what happened next happens now.

Potter sits up, perched on the edge of his bunk. "Wank with me."

His voice is a harsh whisper, a plea, a command of sorts. Draco recalls the shiver that went through him at the sound, his surrender decided.

Potter doesn't wait for a response. He pushes his bunk so it's next to Draco's and climbs back on it. He pulls his pants off and licks his palm, making Draco feel ready to climax in his mind, then wraps it around his cock and strokes.

The Draco in the other bunk falls into the rhythm. He's thrown his sheet off, having already shed his pyjamas and then Potter's sneaking peeks at him, breaths growing more ragged. YES! Draco screams in his head as Potter's thoughts travel to what Draco would do if he offered him a hand. Then he's doing it. His other self relinquishes his cock to Potter's palm, and when Potter turns on his side and they're facing each other, Draco reaches out and returns the favour.

The rest happens in a flash of squelches, panting breaths, fuck, yeses, and the scent of come and harsh exhalations of pleasure and relief.

~*~

He's not quite caught his breath from the mind-splitting orgasm before he's back on the train, trying not to fall over as the carriage shudders around him.

He balances his weight on the side of a compartment, staring at the door leading to the next carriage and the next moment. Things had gone to pot quickly after that night. He's not sure he's ready to face it. But the chemistry between them that the last memory revived … it's hard to deny. Actually, the fact it's so fucking obviously there is probably why what's coming next is so painful. He shuts his eyes, breathing deep and slow to calm his racing heart.

"Be brave, idiot. You jumped in front of a fucking Killing Curse, you can face this."

He pushes through the door, not allowing himself any more time to dwell on his fears.

He's back in the training arena, though it's after hours, the day before their final exam. He's once again in Potter's head, looking out through his eyes, as he walks hand in hand with Ginny Weasley, stopping to chat at the water fountain at the centre of the garden that separates the barracks from the campus building.

Draco feels himself recoil inside Potter's mind. He wants to look behind where they're standing, to where he knows his other self has stopped walking just around the corner of the building, not wanting to intrude on the conversation, and yet unable to keep from eavesdropping. The way Potter and Ginny are standing is certainly more fond than Draco would consider just friends would stand. Though, now, seeing it from Potter's point of view, he may have been mistaken. He frowns.

"All right, nobody can hear us. Tell me what the big news is. You look ready to implode."

Ginny's mouth twists in an attempt at a sour face, but she appears to be too ecstatic to pull it off right. She glances round as if double-checking nobody's watching and then beams at him. "I'm pregnant!"

Potter grins at her fondly and scoops her into his arms, planting a big kiss square on her lips. It's a chaste kiss. Draco hadn't realised that. He'd walked away to nurse his bruised feelings at this point.

Potter releases her, still smiling broadly. "That's brilliant! What'd Dean have to say? Tell me I'm not hearing about it before he is."

Ginny aims a soft kick at Potter's shin, but he sidesteps it. "Of course not, idiot. He's over the moon. We're going to elope though. Mum'll have kittens if she knows I got pregnant before we were married."

Potter rakes his hand through his hair in what Draco now recognises is a sign of agitation, and Ginny seems to be aware of it too. "What?" He sounds defensive, put on-the-spot.

"Tell me how things are going for you? How's your impossible situation?" She grins mischievously.

He feels Potter's face flush all the way down to his chest. He lowers his eyes, turning to prop himself against the fountain, kicking the dusty walkway with his shoe. "Fuck it all." He sighs. "He's interested; I know he is. We work really well together. I've tried giving him space, being friendly, even being obvious."

Draco's mind reels again. Potter is talking about him! And he fucking fucked it all up by being a jealous twit. He wants to kick himself, but saves that idea for later. Now he's got a conversation that needs listening in on.

"Yeah?" Ginny says, her eyebrow arching sharply. "How did that turn out?"

Harry flushes further, likely resembles a beetroot by now. "Uh – it turned out pretty damn well. Fuck – all right, it was the fucking hottest thing ever – and no, I'm not going into details. I just wish ... fuck ... I wish I knew how to really reach him. I'm not sure where we stand futurewise, you know?"

Ginny nods and hugs him. She smiles up at him. "I wish you the best with it, Harry. If you're sure he's worth it, figuring out how to reach him will be worth it too."

~*~

Draco's beyond floored. How could he have possibly misread everything so royally? He's back on the train staring at the door to the next carriage a moment later, just lost. He's got to get back to Harry, got to tell him he's a fuck-up and convince him to give it another go, perhaps with a blow job.

He jumps to his feet and plunges ahead through the door. There's got to be a way off this train, perhaps if he gets to the last carriage as quickly as possible.

When he's back in Harry's mind, Harry's standing at the foot of the conference table talking to Shacklebolt, Robards, Proudfoot and Dawlish. "Malfoy's got my vote for most promising new talent. I'm saying that unofficially, obviously, but I hope that you'll consider it when you make your decision. I know that with his history …" He clears his throat.

"That he may get overlooked," Kingsley finishes for him, then turns his even stare to his colleagues, as if daring them to contradict him. They don't.

"Malfoy's aptitude scores were the highest of the lot," Robards says, then notices Harry and shrugs, "even above yours, Mr Potter."

"He's been clean as a whistle since joining, thirsting to prove himself," Proudfoot puts in.

Harry nods, holding back the shit-eating grin that wants to take over his face. "All right. I'll leave you to it. Thanks for seeing me."

Draco rides along in Harry's mind, blown away by the spring in his step. If the fucker would have just told him how he felt … but Draco halts that line of thinking. He's just as guilty. Neither of them are very good at this whole feelings business.

Harry opens the door, excitement brimming off him. He'd spent the previous night with friends, which had suited Draco just fine, after what he'd overheard. He hates revisiting this memory now, but needs to watch it if he wants to have any hope of rectifying things. How bad a hole has he dug?

Draco sees himself packing the last of his things into his trunk; his back is straight, posture stiff. He sees through the mask. He's protecting himself. How much does Harry see through him though?

"Draco, I –" Harry falters. "You're packed already?"

Draco watches himself turn around, face impassive. "After the final practical examination, I'm returning to the manor. My mother wants to see me."

"There's something wrong." Harry advances. He touches Draco's shoulder, Draco flinches. He draws back. "Before you leave, we need to talk." Harry wrinkles up his face as he realises how cliche, negatively so, that sounds. "I mean, Draco." He's not taking Draco's attempts at ignoring him at all. He holds onto Draco's upper arms, forcing eye contact. Draco hates the hurt he sees in his own eyes, but is relieved it doesn't look like the contempt he knows he was going for. "Draco, promise me you'll hear me out before you leave."

"All right, fine. Let's get on with it." His face is so sour, he's surprised Harry can find it attractive. It's embarrassing.

"No, listen," Harry insists. "Swear it. Don't leave until after we talk."

Draco meets his eyes, sees his own eyes soften the slightest bit through Harry's. "Fine, I promise. Will you let go of me now?"

Harry releases him, confusion, hurt, and disappointment washing over him.

~*~

He's sitting on his knees on the floor of the fifth carriage, his grey robe spreading out around him like an inkblot of regret. He stares at the door to the next carriage. The engine seems to have slowed down, as if it were stopping at another station.

Dumbledore shimmers into existence in front of the door before he has a chance to get to his feet and go through it.

His aged face is kind, smiling, eyes twinkling with almost a childish mischief. "This is the final carriage," he tells Draco. "If you want to go on, you may proceed through this door and the train will take you."

The engines roar, coming back to life, preparing to build up full steam again.

Draco hesitates, jumps to his feet. "But, how? I don't know how to get back … the Killing Curse … people don't just survive it …"

Dumbledore speaks quickly, as if wanting to say what he needs to, as if time is running out. "You're right. Under normal circumstances that is very true. But Harry has mastered Death, and he's not ready to let you go. If you want a second chance, he'll make sure you get it." The carriage begins to shake as the train speeds up. "But you must decide now."

"Draco!" Harry's voice calls from just outside. Draco runs to the door to the outside of the carriage and flings it open. "Thank you," he tells Dumbledore. The old man's blue eyes sparkle brightly, and Draco faces the open door of the moving train. He closes his eyes, and jumps, Harry's name on his tongue, his lips.

~*~

Harry's lips. That's all he can think of. Harry's lips.

And then he's coughing. There's pain in his chest, his throat; the scents of dust, ash, and sweat are thick in his nose. The sound of panting above him, a surprised yelp, a call for help and a swirl of sounds Draco can't make sense of.

The only thing that does make sense is the face coming into focus above him. Black hair in an utter mess, bright green eyes, tear-streaked cheeks, a smile like no other.

"What happened?" Draco asks. His voice sounds like it's been raked over with gravel.

The tear tracks on Harry's face seem to be freshly wet. He's crying, but he's laughing at the same time, and his hands don't leave Draco's chest. They clutch his Auror training robes as if they were attached with a Sticking Charm. "We got him, all of them," he says, all in a breath. "When the leader saw you fall, he froze up. Surrendered. I guess he didn't realise you were on our side now. The rest of them were incompetent. The Aurors incapacitated them in an instant."

 

"Who?" He's not sure he can form a full sentence yet.

"Nott," Harry says, eyes growing sad. "I'm sorry we couldn't save them all, turn them, you know?" Draco struggles to sit up, and Harry helps him manage it. "Are you sure you're okay to sit?"

"Whatever Nott has to say about me, it was in the past. I've made different choices." Draco tries to keep the panic out of his voice but, based on Harry's reassuring nod, he's not sure he succeeded.

"I know," Harry says. Draco looks down to see their hands clasped together.

"How did you do it, Harry?" he can't help but ask. But then the Healer is running towards them from the emergency tent, surrounded by the other newly-trained Aurors.

She gets down on her knees and runs her wand up and down over Draco's chest, legs, arms, head, and back. "Muggle technique?" Her voice is incredulous.

Harry nods, he looks sheepish. It's called CPR, but I may have used a bit of magic too, I'm not sure. I panicked."

She turns her disbelieving eyes on Draco. "You're fit as a fiddle. May experience some muscle soreness for a few days, but my scans show no damage."

"Thank you," Draco says, though he's saying it to Harry.

"Let's get you to your feet, yeah?" Harry says. "I've still got something to tell you." He looks around at the crowd of people. They're all wearing smiles wider than any Draco has seen directed at him before. They're happy he's alive. "In private," Harry reiterates.

Draco smirks. He's got this conversation covered. A quick shut up and kiss me, ought to be a good start. Perhaps a want to practise this new technique I learned with these handcuffs? for afters.

As they head back to their barracks Draco knows – all the way down in his guts – that second chances are wonderful things.